Retaining Your Most Engaged and Talented Employees

 -  6/30/11

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In a work environment where the war for talent is making it tough to find qualified workers, and key skills are estimated to become even more scarce, the need to retain the most talented individuals by treating people well increases every day.

It is shrewder and more economical to work at keeping top employees than to let them go and spend money on recruiting and training new people who may take time to get up to speed. Losing esteemed colleagues can also have an impact on the rest of the team, department and business. Other workers may feel demoralized if they see the best talent being let go too easily.

Looking at the wider demographic picture brings up another reason to hold on to the best. With baby boomers nearing the end of their careers, a big skills gap is being created that’ll be hard to fill. Skills such as science, mathematics and engineering are predicted to be particularly sparse in the coming years. Managers shouldn’t underestimate how important it is to retain individuals who possess these skills and are in the prime of their working lives.

Retention of crucial talent is so key to businesses’ continued growth and success that it is worth investing the time and effort to ensure these individuals are happy to stay put and develop within the company instead of looking elsewhere for professional opportunities. Top employees enhance companies in several ways: by ensuring customer satisfaction, maintaining balance and productivity within the workplace, and driving product development and innovation onwards and upwards. Retaining employees — even ones who seem engaged and dedicated to the organization — requires a sensible and sensitive approach to the way people work.

Give colleagues a sense of direction. Providing a sense of direction for them and the team overall, plus consistent and regular communication about what needs to be done as well as how they are doing in terms of their feedback, are fundamental to keeping the best and most involved workers. A lack of feedback, in particular, can lead to an employee feeling lost and directionless. It’s vital that workers be given an idea of what they’re doing right and wrong, so they can feel in control of their own improvement, development and destiny.

Tune in to every individual on a regular basis. This does not have to be formalized and structured as part of the standard appraisal process. This is much more about day-to-day management and supervision. People leave supervisors and managers rather than leaving organizations. The management and supervision of top achievers must be as high quality as the achievers themselves. Managers should not underestimate their role in holding onto their best workers. Avoid over-measuring: While it is important to measure outputs and performance, over-measurement can be a real irritant to high-performing individuals and may reduce their desire to keep doing what they do.

It is far better to have regular input sessions on being clear about the future and the team’s performance, followed by frequent, shorter feedback conversations both one-on-one and in small groups to check that the individual and the team are headed in the right direction. It sounds simple because it is. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to lose valuable people by overcomplicating what is really a simple humanistic process based on personal relationships.

Communicate clearly. Clear communication not only gives workers clarity about the future, but also around what is expected of them every day. Once people are clear on what they have to do at work, they will be more focused and productive and will therefore be happier at work. If workers feel uncertain or vague about what they’re meant to be doing, their commitment to the company will also be uncertain and vague — if existent at all.

Learn from exit interviews. What have past valued employees who resigned said in their exit interviews? Managers can look over this data and integrate their findings into new strategies to ensure fewer untimely resignations. Exit interviews are sometimes mocked as pointless, but it could be the most important body of data an organization has amassed.

Nisa Chitakasem is the founder of Position Ignition, a talent retention, risk management and senior talent management consulting company. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.